Home > Illinois basketball > Penn State (12-8, 5-4 Big Ten) at Illinois (14-7, 4-4)

Penn State (12-8, 5-4 Big Ten) at Illinois (14-7, 4-4)

Today, 8 p.m. // Assembly Hall

TV: Big Ten Network – Dave Revisine (Play-by-Play), Jim Jackson (Analyst)

Series record: Illinois leads 23-12

Last meeting: Penn State 57, Illinois 51 (Jan. 11 at University Park)

Bruce Weber vs. Penn State: 9-6


Is it the shoes?

Illinois coach Bruce Weber and his assistants will wear orange and navy Nike sneakers on the sidelines of tonight’s game for the annual Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Awareness Weekend, which was celebrated last week. Illinois had a bye this weekend, so the Illini staff is participating tonight. The shoes (above) were designed by Forsyth resident Tom Pistorius, who was the high bidder on the “Design a Nike Shoe” package as part of a Coaches vs. Cancer auction held last fall.

Game on

Illinois has never canceled a home game at the Assembly Hall, and the school probably won’t start tonight despite a forecasted blizzard and possible white-out conditions due to 30 mph winds. Penn State’s flight to Champaign was diverted to Evansville on Monday, and the team spent the night in a hotel. The Nittany Lions departed on an almost four-hour bus ride to Champaign this morning and are expected to reach their destination early this afternoon, before the storm hits.

Still, attendanceat the 16,618-seat Assembly Hall is expected to take a hit. About 5,100 fans braved a Dec. 12 snowstorm to watch the Illini beat Northern Colorado 86-76.

In for a Battle

Illinois has seen enough of Talor Battle. The senior guard has averaged 15.1 points to help lead the Nittany Lions to five wins over the Illini in seven regular-season games during his career.

D.J. Richardson pasted Battle in two games last year, limiting the senior guard to 11 of 34 shooting. But on Jan. 11, Battle went off for a series-high 26 points against the Illini – highlighted by a 40-foot three-pointer from the Nittany Lion logo near halfcourt – to lead PSU to a 57-55 win over then-ranked Illinois.

The Illini haven’t recovered since, losing three of the next four as well.

“We’re going to have to do a better job than last time on Battle,” Weber said. “He got loose. He hit some huge shots. I think, like anyone whether it’s (Illini) Demetri (McCamey), Battle or somebody, if you let them get going, those tough shots are a lot easier when you feel good about yourself and you’ve made some and the hoop looks bigger.”

Richardson likely will draw Battle again, though Brandon Paul could draw the tough assignment too.

Push it

Everyone is a Monday Morning Quarterback when teams are struggling. Weber heard more helpful hints on the road recruiting during the team’s bye last weekend.

“I went recruiting this weekend, and everyone has advice. ‘Oh, you’re holding them back coach.’ That’s the last thing in my mind,” Weber said. “Every game, I promise you on the board it says, ‘Run. Push the basketball.’” 

But the critique has merit. The Illini have the length and athleticism to overwhelm teams on the run and the depth to outlast opponents. But Illinois is averaging 3.4 fastbreak points during its last five games. During the lone win in that stretch, the Illini edged Michigan State 6-0 in fastbreak points.

Close calls

The Illini are 1-7 this season in games decided in the final minute. Let that sink in.

Change just one or two of those outcomes and the mood isn’t quite as tense around the basketball offices. But the Illini tend to stagnate on offense and watch McCamey. And with the senior point guard currently suffering through his worst slump (11-for-46 shooting the last four games) in two years, the late-game struggles snowball.

“Other than Demetri, we really don’t have a guy that can just go get a bucket,” Weber said. “With Demetri struggling, you don’t have anyone.”

But the Illini haven’t helped themselves defensively either. Illinois couldn’t stop UIC after taking a 49-41 lead with 7:30 to go and the backbreaking buckets from Penn State and Indiana losses came on offensive rebounds.

“It’s not like we’re getting blown out,” Weber said. “…We’ve lost three games on block outs, to be honest.”

Prediction: Illinois 66, Penn State 62

Another loss to a non-tournament team could severely splotch Illinois’ own tournament resume. Penn State is a surprising 5-4 in the Big Ten but still must pull off an amazing finish to the regular season (or win the Big Ten Tournament) to earn an NCAA bid following a lackluster nonconference season. Still, Penn State has won three of the last four games in Champaign and has an undeniable confidence against the Illini. The Nittany Lions’ toughness and grit has bothered an Illini team that would rather play a finesse game. Motivation seems to be a problem for Illinois, but this is a do-or-die game and they’ve shot well at home. Illinois has protected its homecourt, except for a 73-68 loss to undefeated Ohio State in which the Illini led by eight in the second half, and need to continue to do so to stay off the bubble.

Categories: Illinois basketball
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